Over the years Homelingua has been getting an increasing number of bookings for Russian students, especially for Young Learner courses. Most of the students are academically bright and will probably go on to top universities. Many (but not all) may expect a ‘serious’ course, with a relatively high proportion of academic study such as grammar development, writing, accurate speaking and high levels of correction (compared to a ‘normal’ Young Learner course).
From a linguistic point of view, it is helpful to know a little about Russian:
- Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet and some English letters are not in the Cyriilic alphabet eg ‘j’, ‘r’, ‘f’, ‘t’, ‘N’, ‘Q’
- Russian is very different as it relies on word endings to indicate grammatical meanings. This results in word order being more flexible than in English.
- Russian doesn’t really have auxilliary verbs. This means question formation, question tags and short answers will be a challenge.
- English ‘perfect’ and ‘progressive’ verbs constructions may cause problems as they are not used in Russian. English uses many more verb constructions than in Russian so choosing the right ‘tense’ is difficult.
- ‘it’ and ‘there’ as subjects of sentences cause confusion
- little, much, many, few, none etc are also difficult for Russians to use.
- Countable and uncountable
- Use of apostrophe ‘s’
- Appropriate use of commas
- In Russian there are no articles or phrasal verbs
- Russian is phonetic, so students may well expect the same in English
- Russian does not have diphthongs or the contrast between long and short vowels
- The vowel sound in ‘bird’ is a particular difficulty.
- ‘th’ in all forms
- the ‘ng’ sound
- final voiced consonants eg nib
- some consonant clusters
- weak forms of words eg ‘can’
- intonation at the end of sentences esp with ‘yes/no’ questions
So, as you can see, there is a lot to work on! Appreciating the correct meaning attached to the different English verb tense and aspect combinations e.g. pres perf, pres cont, simple past, pres perf cont etc is likely to be a significant challenge for Russian-speaking students. Don’t forget that teaching these verb forms in context is likely to be as effective as long analytical explanations.
Learner English by Swan and Smith, Cambs 2010, will give you more information and covers 22 languages in total.